'Don't take my pig feed away'

Brianne Casadei feeds her laying hens at Terra Firma Farm in Stonington on Friday. Go to www.theday.com to see a video of feeding time at the farm.
Brianne Casadei feeds her laying hens at Terra Firma Farm in Stonington on Friday. Go to www.theday.com to see a video of feeding time at the farm. Sean D. Elliot The Day Buy Photo

Stonington - It's not exactly a stampede, but animals at the Terra Firma Farm do move at lightning speed when they see the tractor or truck loaded with barrels of spent grain coming across the farmyard.

"The cows come running from the other side of the field," said Brianne Casadei, owner of the working and educational farm off Al Harvey Road.

And the laying hens and pigs hustle up, too.

"When they see the truck with the garbage cans coming, they line up for it. They can't wait. They get so excited," said Casadei of the supplemental feed she collects twice each week from the cross-town Beer'd Brewing Co. in the Velvet Mill off Bayview Avenue.

Every week for 18 months now, since the nano-brewery opened in November 2012, proprietor Aaren Simoncini has given Casadei about 800 pounds of spent grains - what's left after the malted barley, wheat, oats and other grains are crushed, steeped and filtered.

"It's a high-protein, high-fiber grain when it's done, and it's nutritional and tastes good," said Casadei, adding it is so tasty that she uses it as a lure to corral her 1,000 pasture-raised hens when it's time to change the location of their coop.

"And the three Jersey cows, they think it's like honey on top of cereal," she said.

When Casadei dumped the contents of two 20-gallon barrels of the moist, warm grain for her laying hens Friday afternoon, they converged on the feed like they hadn't eaten in days. Hens scampered from every direction, piling on for the feast.

"It's not their sole source of feed, but it is beneficial and they do get excited about it," said Casadei.

But the decades-old practice of breweries donating or selling their spent grain to farmers was recently thought to be in jeopardy after it was reported that as a result of the 2011 federal Food Safety Modernization Act, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had tightened animal feed production regulations and tied them to brewers supplying spent grains to farmers.

The brewers balked, saying it would be costly to comply with the new FDA standards. And the farmers moaned.

"Don't take my pig feed away," said Casadei.

Across the country, including southeastern Connecticut, the brewers and farmers teamed up to send a resounding "don't do it" message to the FDA, and, in response, the FDA acknowledged it could have done better.

"We've heard from trade groups and members of Congress, as well as individual breweries, raising concerns that FDA might disrupt or even eliminate this practice (of brewers sending spent grains to farmers) by making brewers, distillers, and food manufacturers comply not only with human food safety requirements but also additional, redundant animal feed standards that would impose costs without adding value for food or feed safety," wrote Michael R. Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, in a blog titled "Getting it Right on Spent Grains" that was posted Thursday.

"That, of course, would not make common sense, and we're not going to do it," said Taylor, who acknowledged that FDA language in the proposed rules was murky and therefore misconstrued and that it was never the intent to force brewers to comply with the feed-processing regulations.

The rules will be rewritten and reissued this summer, clarifying the situation so there is no confusion, said Taylor.

That's good news for people like Charlie Buffum, owner of Cottrell Brewing Co. in Pawcatuck, who had been keeping up on news regarding breweries sending spent grain to farmers.

For the 18 years he's been in business, Buffum has been giving his leftover wet grain - anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 pounds two to four days each week - to a cattle farmer in North Stonington.

Like Simoncini at Beer'd Brewing, Cottrell said he would have to pay the cost of disposing of the grain if the farmer didn't take it. "It's a win-win," he said. "It's a win for the brewer and a win for the farmer."

At Cottrell Brewery, the farmer leaves a trailer that the brewer fills with spent grain after each beer-making session. Then the farmer comes and picks it up.

"It goes in the trailer from the brewery to the farm to the cattle," said Cottrell, who is optimistic that the FDA proposal is no longer a concern.

Simoncini runs a smaller operation and dumps his spent grain into barrels that he leaves on a loading dock for Casadei to pick up two evenings each week.

It would have been a big problem if the rules went through, said Simoncini, explaining it would be costly to comply "and cheaper for me to rent a dumpster."

"If farmers don't get it, it's just going to go to a landfill, and that's more waste that we just don't need," said Casadei.

Not to mention that the pigs, cows and hens like it.

a.baldelli@theday.com

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